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Audiences have changed attitudes, latest Australia Council research finds

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Brooke Boland

Australian audiences are engaging with the arts in different ways, including growth in online audiences and First Nations arts attendance.
Audiences have changed attitudes, latest Australia Council research finds

Ilbijerri Blood on the Dance Floor. Photo by Bryony Jackson.

In the same week the 2016 census data has been published, the Australia Council for the Arts has released its latest report Connecting Australians: The National Arts Participation Survey. This is the third survey in a landmark series which measures audience attitudes and attendance. 

The survey found that 98% of Australians engage with the arts and there is substantially increased recognition of the arts’ positive impact on wellbeing and ability to develop new ideas, with 3 in 4 Australians feeling that the arts are an important way to get a different perspective on a topic or issue. 

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The findings also confirmed that Australians value the arts more than ever as an important way to build stronger communities and a more cohesive society. 

‘The role that the arts can play in social cohesion is a really important one. The kinds of things that the report highlights is that people feel that through the arts they could understand other cultures, other lives, other stories,’ said Dr Wendy Were, Executive Director Strategic Development and Advocacy at the Australia Council for the Arts.

‘The belief that the arts help build stronger communities is one of the key findings of the report. It’s particularly relevant when you think of the census data that came out this week as well, which reveals that we are an increasingly culturally diverse nation and are certainly continuing to expand that diversity.’

The arts will continue to increase in value as Australians recognise the important role the arts play in social cohesion, and also recognition and understanding between cultures.

‘We are living in a world where there is a lot of disruption politically, it’s a world where people are concerned about a range of things and when you see that the arts can act as an antidote to those threats to social cohesion, that’s a pretty powerful statement,’ said Were. 

‘The arts were also identified as a really important way for people to engage with their own culture as well, so it provides a connection to cultural identification and keeping cultures alive, but also that connection across cultures which is really important when you think about empathy and understanding and how the arts are helping express Australian identity in all its diversity.’

The survey also found that audience attendance of First Nations arts has doubled since 2009 and online arts engagement is growing, particularly with younger audiences. 

‘We can see that online engagement is booming, but it’s not cannibalising or substituting live attendance. There’s another layer of engagement that is happening in the online space,’ said Were.

‘People are making art digitally, they are sharing art digitally, they are experiencing art digitally and that’s where a lot of younger audience participation is really strong.’

This is reflective of the overall trend for younger Australians who create and experience the arts at higher rates than the rest of the population.

Audiences realised the arts aren’t a “nice to have”

The survey also revealed that audiences don’t necessarily recognise the breadth of the arts and how they engage with it daily. 

‘For a lot of people when they think of the arts they think of specific art forms like ballet, and didn’t associate listening to music or reading a book as arts participation. When they realised the extent to which they were participating on a daily basis, suddenly the value and importance of the arts became much greater,’ said Were.

‘When you expand that definition people realise that the arts are not a “nice to have”, they are an essential part of the quality of your personal life and the wellbeing of the community.’

Key findings

  • 98% of Australians engage with the arts and since the 2013 survey there is substantially increased recognition of their positive impact on our wellbeing and ability to develop new ideas. 
  • More Australians now believe the arts reflect Australia’s cultural diversity and that they shape and express Australian identity. 
  • 3 in 4 Australians believe the arts are an important way to get a different perspective on a topic or issue. 
  • 7 million Australians experienced First Nations arts last year, double the number since the first survey in 2009. 4 in 5 believe they are an important part of Australia’s culture. 
  • Three quarters of us think the arts are an important part of the education of every Australian and are proud when Australian artists do well overseas. 
  • Younger Australians (15-24 years) create and experience the arts at the highest rates; are most likely to give time or money to the arts; they are big festival and First Nations arts attenders; and over half engage with the arts as part of their cultural background. 
  • Online and live arts experiences both remain important to Australians, creating greater access and new experiences rather than one replacing the other. 
  • 8 in 10 people engage with the arts online, increasing from 7 in 10 in 2013, and 5 in 10 in 2009 - with music streaming the largest contributor to this growth. Online activity is creating new opportunities to collaborate and share, and connecting artists and audiences directly. 
  • 9 million Australians attended an arts festival in 2016. Arts festivals are diverse and accessible, bringing local communities together in immersive experiences and encouraging regional and international tourism. 
  • This survey saw a substantial increase in the number of Australians attending theatre or dance from 2013 (42% to 53%), as well as increases for visual arts and craft, and new data which shows 1 in 5 Australians attend literary events such as book clubs, talks and festivals. 
  • The downward trend in the proportion of Australians who donate money generally is not reflected in arts giving. 1 in 4 Australians give time or money to the arts reflecting their value in our lives. 

For more information and to explore interactive dashboards visit the Australia Council website. 

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.

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